Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

Medieval Monday_heading

Food preparation

All types of cooking involved the direct use of fire. Kitchen stoves did not appear until the 18th century, and cooks had to know how to cook directly over an open fire. Ovens were used, but they were expensive to construct and only existed in fairly large households and bakeries. It was common for a community to have shared ownership of an oven to ensure that the bread baking essential to everyone was made communal rather than private. There were also portable ovens designed to be filled with food and then buried in hot coals, and even larger ones on wheels  that were used to sell pies in the streets of medieval towns.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

But for most people, almost all cooking was done in simple stewpots, since this was the most efficient use of firewood and did not waste precious cooking juices, making potages and stews the most common dishes. Overall, most evidence suggests that medieval dishes had a fairly high fat content, or at least when fat could be afforded. This was considered less of a problem in a time of back-breaking toil, famine, and a greater acceptance—even desirability—of plumpness; only the poor or sick, and devout ascetics, were thin.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and VendorsFruit was readily combined with meat, fish and eggs. The recipe for Tart de brymlent, a fish pie from the recipe collection Forme of Cury, includes a mix of figs, raisins, apples and pears with fish (salmon, codling or haddock) and pitted damson plums under the top crust. It was considered important to make sure that the dish agreed with contemporary standards of medicine and dietetics.

This meant that food had to be “tempered” according to its nature by an appropriate combination of preparation and mixing certain ingredients, condiments and spices; fish was seen as being cold and moist, and best cooked in a way that heated and dried it, such as frying or oven baking, and seasoned with hot and dry spices; beef was dry and hot and should therefore be boiled; pork was hot and moist and should therefore always be roasted. In some recipe collections, alternative ingredients were assigned with more consideration to the humoral nature than what a modern cook would consider to be similarity in taste. In a recipe for quince pie, cabbage is said to work equally well, and in another turnips could be replaced by pears.

The completely edible shortcrust pie did not appear in recipes until the 15th century. Before that the pastry was primarily used as a cooking container in a technique known as ‘huff paste’ . Extant recipe collections show that gastronomy in the Late Middle Ages developed significantly. New techniques, like the shortcrust pie and the clarification of jelly with egg whites began to appear in recipes in the late 14th century and recipes began to include detailed instructions instead of being mere memory aids to an already skilled cook.

Medieval kitchens

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

In most households, cooking was done on an open hearth in the middle of the main living area, to make efficient use of the heat. This was the most common arrangement, even in wealthy households, for most of the Middle Ages, where the kitchen was combined with the dining hall. Towards the Late Middle Ages a separate kitchen area began to evolve. The first step was to move the fireplaces towards the walls of the main hall, and later to build a separate building or wing that contained a dedicated kitchen area, often separated from the main building by a covered arcade. This way, the smoke, odors and bustle of the kitchen could be kept out of sight of guests, and the fire risk lessened. Few medieval kitchens survive as they were “notoriously ephemeral structures”.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and VendorsMany basic variations of cooking utensils available today, such as frying pans, pots, kettles, and waffle irons, already existed, although they were often too expensive for poorer households. Other tools more specific to cooking over an open fire were spits of various sizes, and material for skewering anything from delicate quails to whole oxen. There were also cranes with adjustable hooks so that pots and cauldrons could easily be swung away from the fire to keep them from burning or boiling over. Utensils were often held directly over the fire or placed into embers on tripods. To assist the cook there were also assorted knives, stirring spoons, ladles and graters.

In wealthy households one of the most common tools was the mortar and sieve cloth, since many medieval recipes called for food to be finely chopped, mashed, strained and seasoned either before or after cooking. This was based on a belief among physicians that the finer the consistency of food, the more effectively the body would absorb the nourishment. It also gave skilled cooks the opportunity to elaborately shape the results. Fine-textured food was also associated with wealth; for example, finely milled flour was expensive, while the bread of Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendorscommoners was typically brown and coarse. A typical procedure was farcing (from the Latin farcio, “to cram”), to skin and dress an animal, grind up the meat and mix it with spices and other ingredients and then return it into its own skin, or mold it into the shape of a completely different animal.

The kitchen staff of huge noble or royal courts occasionally numbered in the hundreds: pantlers, bakers, waferers, sauciers, larderers, butchers, carvers, page boys, milkmaids, butlers and numerous scullions. While an average peasant household often made do with firewood collected from the surrounding woodlands, the major kitchens of households had to cope with the logistics of daily providing at least two meals for several hundred people. Guidelines on how to prepare for a two-day banquet can be found in the cookbook Du fait de cuisine (“On cookery”) written in 1420 in part to compete with the court of Burgundy by Maistre Chiquart, master chef of Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy. Chiquart recommends that the chief cook should have at hand at least 1,000 cartloads of “good, dry firewood” and a large barnful of coal.

Professional cooking

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and Vendors

The majority of the European population before industrialization lived in rural communities or isolated farms and households. The norm was self-sufficiency with only a small percentage of production being exported or sold in markets. Large towns were exceptions and required their surrounding hinterlands to support them with food and fuel. The dense urban population could support a wide variety of food establishments that catered to various social groups. Many of the poor city dwellers had to live in cramped conditions without access to a kitchen or even a hearth, and many did not own the equipment for basic cooking. Food from vendors was in such cases the only option.

Medieval Food Preparation, Kitchens and VendorsCookshops could either sell ready-made hot food, an early form of fast food, or offer cooking services while the customers supplied some or all of the ingredients. Travellers, such as pilgrims en route to a holy site, made use of professional cooks to avoid having to carry their provisions with them. For the more affluent, there were many types of specialist that could supply various foods and condiments: cheesemongers, pie bakers, saucers, waferers, etc. Well-off citizens who had the means to cook at home could on special occasions hire professionals when their own kitchen or staff could not handle the burden of throwing a major banquet.

Urban cookshops that catered to workers or the destitute were regarded as unsavory and disreputable places by the well-to-do and professional cooks tended to have a bad reputation. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Hodge of Ware, the London cook from the Canterbury Tales, is described as a sleazy purveyor of unpalatable food. French cardinal Jacques de Vitry’s sermons from the early 13th century describe sellers of cooked meat as an outright health hazard.

While the necessity of the cook’s services was occasionally recognized and appreciated, they were often disparaged since they catered to the baser of bodily human needs rather than spiritual betterment. The stereotypical cook in art and literature was male, hot-tempered, prone to drunkenness, and often depicted guarding his stewpot from being pilfered by both humans and animals. In the early 15th century, the English monk John Lydgate articulated the beliefs of many of his contemporaries by proclaiming that “Hoot ffir [fire] and smoke makith many an angry cook.

Text from Wikipedia

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Tudor Vegetable Pie / Grønnsakspai fra Tudortiden

A meatless pie recipe from the Tudor era
found at historyextra.com

 Tudor Vegetable Pie / Grønnsakspai fra Tudortiden

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, a vegetable pie from the Tudor era.

Sam writes: This 1596 recipe for a “pie of bald meats [greens] for fish days” was handy for times such as Lent or Fridays when the church forbade the eating of meat (another similar recipe is called simply Friday Pie). Medieval pastry was a disposable cooking vessel, but in the 1580s there were great advancements in pastry work. Pies became popular, with many pastry types, shapes and patterns filled with everything from lobster to strawberries. This pie’s sweet/savoury combo is typical of Tudor cookery. I enjoyed it, but was glad I’d reduced the sugar content.

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Cryspez – Medieval Pancakes / Pannekaker som i Middelalderen

A Medieval dessert/snacks recipe found on CookIt!
Cryspez -  Medieval Pancakes / Pannekaker som i Middelalderen

Pancakes were (and still are) served on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day), which marks the last day before Lent. Christians began fasting on Ash Wednesday and certain foods were forbidden throughout Lent. Eggs and milk were used up before Lent began, which is why we make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

The finished pancakes are a little like small, crispy doughnuts, with a wonderfully frilly shape. The batter puffs up in the hot oil. You need to work quickly to keep them crisp and serve them as soon as the last ones are cooked. They are quite rich and so are particularly nice dipped in a slightly sharp fruit sauce.

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Medieval Monday – Gridle Bread / Takkebrød

A recipe for ale rised bread found on CookIt!
Medieval Monday – Gridle Bread / Takkebrød

Bread was part of the staple diet in Medieval times. And this is a simple risen bread which uses ale (the yeast in the ale) to make the bread rise. The ale is warmed to activate the yeast.

Many early breads and biscuits were baked on flat metal pans, much as earlier peoples had cooked on flat stones. The heat from the griddle cooks the food.

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Medieval Monday / Middelaldermandag – Frumenty

A medieval lunch/dinner recipe found at CookIt!
Medieval Monday /  Middelaldermandag – Frumenty

Frumenty was a staple food for thousands of years. The earliest versions were probably made by early farming communities with dried grains. Frumenty was still being commonly referred to in Victorian books, although it had fallen out of favour as a dish by then. There are many versions of frumenty including a winter dish often served at Christmas. This festival dish was made with milk, eggs, currants and saffron.

Before potatoes became a staple food, frumenty was served as the carbohydrate part of the meal. Roast and boiled meat, fish and game were all served with frumenty through the Middle  Ages and into the Tudor and Stuart periods.

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Medieval Monday – Apple Puffs / Eplemosdessert

A Stuart era dessert/snack recipe found on CookIt!
Medieval M0nday - Apple Puffs / Eplemosdessert

In Stuart times, cooking methods were much as they had been for centuries.  Most food was still cooked over open fires, outdoors as much as possible, otherwise the houses became filled with smoke and the danger from fire was much greater.

Spit roasts were improved and became easier to use, otherwise trivets for frying and cooking pots for boiling were the main cooking methods.

This recipe is simple but nutritious, using eggs and apples, both of which were easily obtained in the countryside where most people still lived. The addition of raisins and ginger (both imported from abroad) were too expensive for most ordinary people, and used sparingly even by the better off.

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Medieval Monday – Pork with Pine Kernel Sauce / Svinekjøtt med Pinjekjernesaus

A medieval Roman recipe found on CookIt!
Medieval Monday – Pork with Pine Kernel Sauce / Svinekjøtt med Pinjekjernesaus

This recipe illustrates the Roman love of dishes that could be dipped into sauces. A vast array dishes could be served in bowls and platters. Meat would be carved into small pieces, so that each guest only picks what he needs and dips the meat into the accompanying sauces served in little bowls.

The meat would be cooked over a raised brick hearth, on top of which was a charcoal fire. The meat was placed in a pan on a tripod placed over the fire or cooked directly on a grid. Also used were frying pans (pensa), deeper pans (patella and patina), mixing bowls (mortaria) with a spout for pouring.

The recipe given here is not meant to be cooked in a modern kitchen but on an open fire or on a charcoal grill. Roman cooks judged quantities by eye so measurements are not given. Apicius provides the ingredients for the sauce, this then accompanies pan- fried meat.

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Medieval Monday – Doucetes

A pie recipe from the fifitenth century found on Let Hem Boyle
Medieval Monday – Doucetes

Original recipe

Take Cream a good cupful & put it in a strainer; then take yolks of Eggs & put thereto, & a little milk; then strain it through a strainer into a bowl; then take Sugar enough & put thereto, or else honey for default of Sugar, then color it with Saffron; then take thine coffins & put in the oven empty & and let them be hardened; then take a dish fastened on the Baker’s peel’s end; & pour thine mixture into the dish & from the dish into the coffins & when they do rise well, take them out & serve them forth.

Take a thousand eggs or more, I Volume,
Harleian MS. 279, c. 1420

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Medieval Monday – Almond Leach / Mandel Leach

A dessert recipe from the Tudor era found on CookIt!
Medieval Monday – Almond Leach / Mandel Leach

Leach is a kind of milk jelly a little like a blancmange. There are milk versions but this one was a dish for Lent when the Tudors would not use milk. Almond milk was used during Lent instead. This is a high table dish for a gentry family and is served attractively. It is time consuming to make requiring setting time and a swift hand when turning out.The top half of the leach is coloured with red wine.

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Medieval Monday – Pokerounce

A historic sweatmeat recipe found on Cook It!
Medieval Monday – Pokerounce

A medieval sweetmeat to be eaten at the end of a meal. Sugar was an expensive luxury so honey sweetened foods were popular. The range of imported spices used would still have made this an expensive dish. Galingale is an aromatic spice, a little like ginger, but worth using if you can get it.

This dish is not unlike modern honey dishes which you might know, such as baklava.

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Medieval Monday – Brawune Fryes

A 15th century pork recipe found on Let Hem Boyle
Medieval Monday - Brawune Fryes

saara_thumb11_thumbSaara who runs Let Hem Boyle writes on the blog: This blog is all about historical cooking, mainly focusing on the medieval and renaissance periods. I hope you’ll get inspired and see that cooking is fun and easy. The modernized recipes are only my suggestions, so feel free to try out and make your own! This blog and material is in English and in Finnish. Check out the upper bar of this page! You can find all the recipes there 🙂 enjoy!

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Tart in Ymber Day / Terter for Emberdagene

A fasting tart recipe found at Let Hem Boyle
Tart in Ymber Day / Terter for Emberdagene

In the liturgical calendar of the Western Christian churches, Ember  (Ymber) days are four separate sets of three days within the same week — specifically, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, that are set aside for fasting and prayer. These days set apart for special prayer and fasting were considered especially suitable for the ordination of clergy. The Ember Days are known in Latin as the quattuor anni tempora (the “four seasons of the year”), or formerly as the jejunia quattuor temporum (“fasts of the four seasons”).

The four quarterly periods during which the ember days fall are called the embertides.

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Pumpes – Meat Balls / Kjøttboller

A historic dinner recipe found on CookItPumpes – Meat Balls / Kjøttboller

The original recipe:

‘Take fayre buttys of vele and hewe hem,and grnd hem,and wyth eyroun(eggs); caste powder pepyr, gyngere, safroun, galingal and herbes also raysonys of coraunce. Sethe in a pan wyth fayre water. Than putte it on a spete round and lete hem rosty. Serve hem forth.’

Pommeaulx (abridged)

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Ryschewys Closed – Dumplings / Melboller

A historic recipe found on One Year and Thousand Eggs
Ryschewys Closed – Dumplings / Melboller

Take flour and eggs & knead together / take figs, raisins & dates & put out the stones & blanched almonds & good powder & bray together / make coffins of the length of a span / put thy stuffing therein, in every cake his portion/ fold them & boil them in water & afterward roast them on a griddle & give forth.

From Laud MS. 553, Volume I

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White Leek Bruet / Hvit Purre Bruet

A recipe from 1420 found on Inn At The CrossroadsWhite Leek Bruet / Hvit Purre Bruet

Chelsea at “Inn At The Crossroads” writes: The leeks and salt pork cook until they are so soft that they almost melt, leaving the slivered almonds to make a textural statement. Each bite transitions from the saltiness of the broth, to the soft flavors of the leeks and pork, then ends with a strong nutty, crunchy finish. I’ve made it as in the original, but if I were to make it again, I might include a sprig or two of herbs for some added nutrients and complexity. It would also be tasty paired with a nice toasted slice of dark rye bread.

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